The changing course of the Iron Horse

Andrew Morgan

The City of Kitchener and the University of Waterloo are collaborating on how to develop the Iron Horse Trail into an inclusive and equitable community asset.

On June 8, the City of Kitchener is holding a public workshop to involve the members of the community in identifying improvements to the Iron Horse Trail. The public workshop is part of a community engagement program lead by Multi-use Pathways and Trails Project Manager Josh Joseph and consultant Colleen Cooper to invite public input on a Iron Horse Trail improvement strategy.

In May, a group of graduate students used the improvement strategy project as a case study as they considered the health inequalities in Waterloo Region in intensive two-week course at University of Waterloo. Students from the course will be assisting Joseph and Cooper at the public workshop.

The improvement strategy will identify enhancements like way-finding, seating areas, lighting and public art for the Kitchener sections of the trail. Besides the public workshop, the engagement program features an interactive online survey and pop-up stations where residents will walk the trail with city staff members (the final one is on June 9).


“A big push for the Iron Horse Trail [improvement strategy], at least as we have experienced it, has been understanding the needs and desires of community members and users of the trail” says one instructor of the graduate course, Sara Edge, PhD.

“Obviously that requires a good deal of legwork in terms of community engagement. Hopefully this course has provided Josh and Colleen a chance to test out some of their engagement ideas and to benefit from the diverse range of skills, perspectives and experiences that students brought to this course.”

Edge is director of research and programming for the CHEC Initiative, a UW affiliated organization that works with communities and coordinates research on health equity and sustainability. She and Mark Groulx, PhD candidate in the UW School of Planning (and TCE contributor) designed and taught the course. The course included students from the School of Planning, School of Public Health and Health Systems, and Department of Environment and Resource Studies, as well as students from the Social Justice and Community Development program at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Groulx describes the relationship between health inequalities and trails like the Iron Horse: “Health outcomes are produced by a complex set of factors that span from global environmental crises to local policies that shape the built and natural landscape. At the same time, unequal access to necessary supports that are required to build and maintain a healthy lifestyle can constrain the capacity
of individuals and communities to contribute to their own health and well-being.”

By working with Joseph and Cooper, “students will be able to bring their understanding of health equity to a discussion about creating an Iron Horse Trail that serves the needs of all citizens in our community,” says Groulx.

The students proposed strategies to address in safety, physical and mental health, and social inclusion inequalities present in Waterloo Region through the improvements to the Iron Horse Trail. These ranged from lighting, public art and a “trail day” to a low ropes course, outdoor stationary exercise equipment and a steward- ship coalition of community services representatives and individuals from impacted community groups.

Their work gave particular attention to engaging individuals and groups (youth, or individuals and families living in poverty, for example) who are impacted most by health inequalities, and are not often given a stake in matters.

Joseph says he was impressed how the students approached the subject matter “both realistically and creatively” to propose “a mix of simple and complex solutions.”

Merryn Maynard, a public health student who took the course, is excited to be part of the workshop on June 8. She references a quote from Nick Saul, president of Community Food Centres Canada, former executive-director of The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto, and recipient of the 2008 Jane Jacobs Award in expressing her interest: “people, if you give them the chance, have really insightfully and amazing ideas about how to improve their lives.”

The combination of the public workshop and pop-up stations in the engagement program will allow for more thorough engagement.

For more information on the Iron Horse Trail Improvement Strategy and the engagement program, including the June 8 public workshop and June 9 pop-up station.